Breathe Deep. It’s an instruction that applies to a great number of circumstances. For Oscar Jerome, the words carry weight in the face of political turmoil as well as personal reflection; both prominent themes on his debut album.
It’s a bold statement from the South London guitarist, post-emergence from behind the curtains of collaboration inside the UK capital’s flourishing jazz scene. Yet it does not feel like a total departure from that universe, but rather a gentle prodding at the edges from the inside.
On Breathe Deep, Oscar Jerome tackles personal growth and humanity’s struggle, complete with dextrous contributions from the UK jazz scene’s finest.
These past collaborations feed straight back into Breathe Deep. The album’s list of guests is an immense pool of talent with which he has previously worked, including members of British afrobeat pioneers Sons of Kemet. Meanwhile, a host of other connections shine through in his own writing. None of which could be more influential than Kamasi Washington, who Jerome supported on tour in 2019.
Despite being a debut, this album is something of a self-contemplation, both as a musician and a human being. “Breathe Deep’ is a pretty broad presentation of who I am musically and my journey to get to this point,” Jerome said in a press release. “On a personal level, it’s a reflection of the effort put in during that path of self-bettering, both emotionally and in life more broadly.”
It’s a mature angle, and one that permeates the entire album. The unalterable events of years past – particularly in regard to musical influences – are celebrated with reverence and respect. Rather than revolve the entire record around virtuosic guitar playing – a tempting option as an emerging solo artist – Breathe Deep does a tasteful service to Jerome’s influences through textural diversity and intricate, infectious rhythms.
The track Coy Moon typifies this approach perfectly. A fusion-inspired drum and bass groove mediates a conversation between several layered guitar tracks that range from ethereal reverberations to percussive plucks. Experimentation in guitar tone is an aesthetic that dictates many of the album’s highlight moments, and is reminiscent of this genre’s finest exponents, such as Snarky Puppy or FORQ.
While Breathe Deep has placed a clear focus on joyous and liberating instrumentals, Jerome’s lyrics convey a more serious tone. The music serves as a beacon for everything that he cherishes in the distant past. Conversely, his lyrics critically ponder on the more difficult subjects facing humanity moving forward.
Arguably the album’s grooviest cut is the single Give Back What You Stole from Me. Demonstrably, it is juxtaposed against Jerome’s most fervent assessments against unequal distributions of power and wealth.
“I can’t understand this greed. How the savage have the power. How the rest, how the rest just plant the seed. For the trees must grow for this concrete river to flow. We should stand up and say no.”
Jerome’s politics are sprinkled generously throughout the record. Your Saint deals with his puzzlement at the seeming lack of awareness in refugee struggles. No doubt the subject became even more potent to him as a citizen of post-Brexit England. Meanwhile, Sun For Someone chastises humanity’s impact on an increasingly volatile climate. Contributing on keys for the latter is Joe Armon-Jones, a journeyman of the UK jazz world and founding member of Ezra Collective.
The political lyricism on Breathe Deep is anything but apologetic. However, Jerome takes solace in humanity’s ability to nevertheless proceed, even in spite of extensive challenges.
“The world is a messed up place but people still find ways of preparing themselves for it.”
This realisation manifests in the album’s closer, Joy Is You. The track celebrates the birth of Jerome’s nephew, and pays homage to family, past present and future.
Joy Is You seals the record with the first deliberate alignment of arrangement and lyrics. There are no juxtapositions of political frustration against electrifying rhythms in sight. Instead, it rejoices in the recycle of life:“…the past looks through the window and rejoices in the blood flow.”
Ultimately, Oscar Jerome’s debut effort illustrates that the volatile nature of human experience, of negativity and positivity, past and future, can be briefly subdued in reflection – in a deep breath.
Breathe Deep is out now via Caroline Australia. Stream or purchase your copy here.